Why Are Bagpipes Played at Police and Firefighter Funerals?

March 26, 2019 11:35 pm Published by Leave your thoughts

Bagpipes are often heard playing at fire and police departments across the country and at memorial services in Chicago, IL. The tradition started more than 150 years ago when the Irish and Scottish immigrated here. One of the traditions they brought over was playing the Great Highland bagpipe at weddings, funerals and dances. However, the practice started well before the Irish and Scottish arrived in America.

The beginning

During the potato famine in the 1800s Irish immigration increased greatly to the east coast of the U.S. Irish immigrants faced harsh discrimination and were rarely hired. Among the few jobs they could get were the most dirty and dangerous ones. This led to many Irish and Scottish immigrants becoming firefighters and bringing their cultural traditions, including funeral bagpipes, to the job. At the time, firefighting was even more dangerous than it is today. Traditionally, Irish funerals featured bagpipes, so most firefighter funerals, including memorial services in Chicago, IL also incorporated bagpipes.

The sound of mourning

The sound of bagpipes playing can be haunting and mournful. Among the Irish in the 1800s, men rarely showed their sadness. However, at the sound of bagpipes, a firefighter may start to cry, allowing him to weep at the loss of a friend and comrade. Most often, “Amazing Grace” is the bagpipe song you’ll hear played at memorial services in Chicago, IL. The four stanzas of “Amazing Grace” all have a specific meaning. The first pertains to being born, the second is played to celebrate you and your family, the third is about your life with family, friends and your fire department family and the last is for your death, leaving the world alone. It wasn’t long until the mournful sounds of a bagpipe were played for non-Irish firefighters. Many believe the sound of the bagpipes adds a sorrowful, yet dignified air to the funeral.

Working together

Bagpipe bands are now standard for police and firefighters. On average, the bands have more than 60 uniformed playing members. They are traditionally known as Emerald Societies. The name comes from where the tradition started: Ireland, the Emerald Isle. Usually the bands wear traditional Scottish dress or the simpler Irish uniform. No longer are the bagpipes just played for Irish or firefighters—they have become a distinguishing feature of memorial services in Chicago, IL for fallen heroes of any stripe.

Family owned and operated, Marik-Baken Funeral Services Ltd. in Westchester, IL has proudly served the local and surrounding areas with caring, professional and personable services since 2006. We are honored to help arrange memorial services in Chicago, IL, including services for departed first responders. Our owner, Barbara Marik-Baken, is a fourth-generation funeral director. She is dedicated to providing personalized care to meet the specific needs of each persona and family to best honor the life of the loved one who has passed. Arrangements can be made to have services at the funeral home, a church or any site that best suits the family. Please don’t hesitate to reach out to us to learn more.

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